Monday, December 7, 2009

What use are Megapixels to a genealogist?

There is no doubt that using a digital camera is a boon to all researchers and particularly to those doing genealogical research. A survey in 2006 of professional photographers showed that over 80 percent were using digital cameras as opposed to film. That trend has undoubtedly continued. Genealogists benefit from this transition to digital cameras because you can use your camera to record information directly from books, microfilm and onsite visits, such as those to cemeteries. In years past, the biggest obstacle to taking photographs was the expense of purchasing film and the time it took for development. In today's world digital cameras are everywhere, including embedded in cell phones and other devices.

This holiday season it is likely that you are considering the purchase of a digital camera. In looking at the ads online and elsewhere, you will almost always see the number of "Megapixels" prominently displayed. The average inexpensive camera today comes with 10 or more Megapixels. But what does that mean? And is more always better?

It turns out that the answer is fairly technical. The simple answer is that the higher the Megapixel count, the more detail the camera can capture. But the real issue with the resolution of detail is not so much the absolute pixel count, but the quality of the other components, including the size of the sensor, the color depth of the sensor and your own camera skills are much more important. This emphasis on the Megapixel count is now referred to as "The Megapixel Myth." The gist of the discussion on Megapixels is that more is not always better and that higer resolution does not always translate into higher quality output.

To start to put things into perspective, an average laser printer will print at about 600 dpi (now ppi) that is dots per inch or pixels per inch. An HDTV has a screen resolution of about 100 ppi. Now, how do print or display ppi relate to the number of pixels on the camera sensor? Have a look at this article, entitled Megapixels v. Print Size. Now you ask yourself, What Camera Resolution Do I Need? From this About.com article you will learn that the major factors that will play a significant role in the how your photos look are:
  • Proper lighting
  • Lens quality
  • Steadiness of camera
  • Auto-focus on the proper subject
  • Proper shutter speed for moving or stationary subject
  • Clean equipment
You won't see the number of Megapixels listed as a factor. There are reasons for buying an expensive camera, but most of the reasons have to do with professional or semi-professional photographers, not genealogists. If you don't know which camera to buy, think about how much you want to spend and then go to a Website like DigitalCameraInfo.com for reviews and ratings.

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